Study Shows That Playing With Dolls Increases Children’s Empathy and Social Skills

King’s College London and Cardiff University have found that playing with dolls helps children improve their social interaction and empathize with people. The team found that children playing with dolls rather than phones and tablets had increased activity in brain regions linked to the development of the brain.

The study, which took several years, showed that children who played with dolls were more like to talk about other people’s emotions and thoughts. Researchers called this internal state language (ISL).

How researchers conducted the study

For this study, the team gathered 33 children aged 4 to 8. The team concluded that children who played with dolls had higher ISL. Scientists believe that ISL allows children to practice their social skills with their dolls. For this reason, real-life social interactions become simpler.

Furthermore, when the children played with their dolls, their neural activity in the posterior inferior temporal sulcus was higher. This brain region is vital for developing emotional and social processing skills. The children would also interact with their dolls as if the toys had emotions and thoughts.

According to Dr. Sarah Gerson, the lead study author, children who play with dolls often create elaborate imaginary scenarios. In these worlds, the children communicate out loud with their dolls and then internalize what they think is the doll’s response.

The skills children learn are lifelong

Dr. Gerson adds that this kind of play is vital for teaching children to process emotional and social cues. It can also help them become more empathetic. Fortunately, these effects are long-lasting this could be beneficial as the children grow.

Dr. Gerson explains that the researchers observed ISL as it shows the child’s thoughts and what they believe another party is feeling or thinking. She explains that this will eventually become important as the children grow. This will determine how they interact with their parents and teachers. It will also help them maintain friendships.

Mattel, the famous maker of Barbie dolls, funded this study. The Senior Vice President at Barbie and Dolls at Mattel, Lisa McKnight, adds that the company will continue to partner with Cardiff University to research the importance of playing with dolls and the impact on the brain.

For now, the findings could encourage parents to expose their children to dolls no matter their gender.

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